From the Ballfields to the Battlefield

From famed New York Yankees catcher Yogi Berra to Arizona Cardinals safety Pat Tillman, there have been many athletes who sacrificed their sports careers to serve their country. Berra was a gunner’s mate on the USS Bayfield during Operation Overlord (D-Day) in 1944, and Tillman was a member of the Army Rangers and was killed in action in the Khost Province of Afghanistan in 2004. For St. Louis, baseball is the heart and soul of the Gateway City. Baseball’s history in St. Louis can be traced back to just before the Civil War. In 1862, one 22-year-old St. Louis baseball player gave up his favorite pastime to enlist in the Confederate Army.

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Merritt Griswold’s drawing of the baseball field. Courtesy of the State Historical Society of Missouri.

Edward Bredell, Jr. (hereafter referred to as Bredell) was born in St. Louis in 1839 to a wealthy family. His father Edward Bredell, Sr. was not only a successful attorney, but also owned Bredell & Bro. Dry Goods. In 1855, Bredell began his college education studying engineering at Brown University, where a fellow St. Louis baseball researcher, Jeff Kittel, believes Bredell learned about the sport of baseball.[1]

By 1859, Bredell returned to his hometown from Brown, where he and friend Merritt Griswold created the Cyclone Base Ball Club, St. Louis’ first baseball team. The “First Base Ball Match in St. Louis,” was played between the Cyclones and the Morning Star Base Ball Clubs on July 9, 1860 near Fair Grounds Park.[2]Around the same time, Bredell, Sr. became president of the Missouri Glass Company, where Bredell and Griswold were hired after college. As the impending political and military situations grew dire in St. Louis, the Bredells’ Democratic, pro-secessionist views became more hard line. With large numbers of Republican German and Irish immigrants, the Bredell family’s views were in the minority within the city.

On March 6, 1861, the Cyclones played their first game of the season at Lafayette Park. Though “a jolly time was had” on the field that day, there was still a sense of gloom and anxiousness, as the city, state, and country began to split apart following the 1860 Presidential Election and the formation of the Confederate States of America.[3] Unlike Bredell’s pro-Southern views, Griswold was a staunch Unionist, likely a member of the paramilitary Republican Wide Awakes. Griswold eventually joined the 3rd United States Reserve Corps, which was the 3-month Home Guard unit under Capt. Nathaniel Lyon that captured Governor Claiborne Jackson’s militia at Camp Jackson on May 10, 1861. Though Bredell had Southern views, there is no evidence or proof that he was a member of the pro-Secession Minutemen Militia.

On August 23, 1861, the war was brought to the baseball field at Fair Grounds (adjacent to the new , where the Cyclones were playing. According to the Missouri Republican, “while the game was in progress a German Home Guard came upon the field and persisted in remaining in the way of the players,” which led to a fist fight between a soldier and athlete. The Home Guard was then ordered “to take all the players to Turners’ Hall as prisoners, but Mr. Griswold (formerly a captain in the Home Guards) and a few others persuaded the acting captain of the Home Guards to withdraw his men from field.”[4]

In June 1862, Bredell enlisted and received a commission as a junior officer in the Army of the West, serving as aide-de-camp for Brigadier General (temporary) Charles W. Phifer. Rising from a major of an Arkansas cavalry battalion, Phifer was appointed to temporary brigade command by friend, and commander of the Army of the West, Earl Van Dorn.[5] In October 1862, his temporary rank and command lapsed, forcing him to join another command. Bredell, on the other hand, became quite well known as a loyal aide, leading General John S. Bowen to offer him a spot on his staff in November 1862. By January 1863, Bowen offered him an appointment to be his personal aide-de-camp. In an official endorsement letter to the Honorary John B Clark, Sr., former Missouri Governor Trusten Polk wrote about Bredell, “I have known him since he was an infant . . . [he] is a well educated, well loved young gentleman . . . His father and mother are the best and most valued friends that myself can boast.”[6] Around that same time, Bredell’s mother Angelina became a Confederate spy in St. Louis by collecting and sending Confederate correspondence.[7] Bredell’s father was imprisoned at the same time at the infamous Gratiot Street Prison in St. Louis “on the charge of holding unlawful and secret correspondence with the Rebels in arms.”[8] Both Major General Sterling Price and Confederate Secretary of War James Seddon endorsed Bredell’s appointment. A combination of his parent’s political and economic influence in St. Louis and to the Confederacy undoubtedly was a factor in their son’s appointment and endorsement as the personal aide to Bowen.

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Governor Trusten Polk’s endorsement of Bredell to serve on Bowen’s staff. Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.

Unfortunately for Bredell, his appointment as aide to Bowen lasted just a few months. Defending the fortifications along the Mississippi River against Maj. Gen. Ulysses Grant’s Army of the Tennessee, Bowen’s division managed to delay the Federals at Port Gibson and nearly defeated them at Champion Hill. However, at the Battle of Big Black River Bridge, just outside of Vicksburg, Bowen’s division was ordered to cover the Rebels’ retreat into the Vicksburg defenses. During the siege, Bowen was stricken with dysentery and would succumb to the illness soon after the Confederate garrison’s surrender on July 4, 1863. Like all Rebel troops at Vicksburg, Bredell was a paroled prisoner of war. Due to Bowen’s death just nine days after the surrender, Bredell was also out of a position in the Confederate army.

Out of desperation to continue fighting, Bredell resigned his commission as a lieutenant, broke the parole, traveled to northern Virginia, and joined the ranks of Colonel John S. Mosby’s 43rd Battalion, Virginia Cavalry — also known as “Mosby’s Rangers.” The Rangers were officially formed on June 10, 1863 at Rector’s Cross Roads (today, Atoka) in the Caleb Rector House. Permitted under the Partisan Ranger Act and by General Robert E. Lee, they were able to operate throughout northern Virginia, known as “Mosby’s Confederacy.” Bredell would fight alongside Mosby at Loudoun Heights, Dranesville, Mount Zion Church, Berryville, Manassas Gap, and in the Greenback and Valley Pike raids.

On November 16, 1864, under the command of Richard Montjoy, Bredell and roughly 29 other Rangers moved towards Berry’s Ferry and the Ashby Gap. Just two miles from the ferry, near the Frank Whiting house, the Rangers under Montjoy were ambushed by Union scouts under Richard Blazer. Bredell was shot dead by one of Blazer’s men’s Spencer Repeating Rifles. As a testement to Bredell, his death was recorded by many of the memoirs written by the men who were there at the fight.

“Lieutenant Edward Bredell, from St. Louis, Mo. was killed at Whiting’s house. He was a private in the battalion, and derived his title from a staff position which he had filled in the regular service. He was a brave soldier, and his loss is much regretted in the command. Bredell had a midnight funeral on the island, a sand deposit in the Shenandoah, but his remains have since be removed to Cool Spring Church, near Piedmont.”[9]

“At Whiting’s house, Edward Bredell was killed. He was from St. Louis, Mo., and although he had been a lieutenant in the regular service, he was serving as a private in Company D.”[10]

After hearing of his son’s death, Edward Bredell, Sr. journeyed out to the Cool Spring Church cemetery to retrieve his son’s body and bring it home. Fellow Ranger John Munson even wrote a powerful and emotional story about Bredell and his father:

“Before the war ended, young Bredell’s father came down to Virginia and took his dead son’s body home. When he reached St. Louis, owning to the bitter feeling there towards southerners, he was informed that the body could not be buried in any of the cemeteries. He thereupon had a grave dug in his own handsome grounds, and his son’s body found its final rest in the shadow of his old home.”

Additionally, Munson went to St. Louis a few years after the war to live, but made it a point to visit with Bredell’s father to talk about Edward:

“Upon my first visit to the old gentleman he took my hand and escorted me to the beautiful grounds in the rear of his house, where we two sat by the grave of the Partisan Ranger and talked of him as we had known him in the flesh. I called frequently at the Bredell home and I have not the slightest doubt that it gave the old man no little pleasure to hear me recount the exploits of his brave son, and to repeat, time and time again, the story of the fight in which the boy fell and died.  Many a time I have sat near him in the shade of the trees that spread their limbs over the simple grave, and caught him gazing wistfully at the green mound that covered his son’s body. He tried to take his sorrows philosophicaly, but I cannot forget his first remark as we stood together: “Maybe it is all right to give your only boy to your country, but I wish I had mine back again.”[11]

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Iredell’s grave site at Bellefontaine Cemetery in St. Louis. Courtesy of Find-a-Grave.

Today, Bredell is buried at Bellefontaine Cemetery, the plot marked by a large limestone obelisk. Though rarely remembered today, Bredell and childhood friend Merritt Griswold were two of the founding leaders of baseball in the city of St. Louis, Missouri. Though Bredell’s life was taken early in his life, Griswold survived the Civil War, but with the disbandment of the Cyclones Base Ball Club due to the war, he actually moved to New Jersey and worked in the railroad industry. Neither Bredell or Griswold personally experience the baseball boom in St. Louis, when teams like the Browns and Cardinals grew in popularity.


Sources:

[1] Jeff Kittel, “My Best Guess,” This Game of Games: St. Louis Baseball in the 19th Century, March 10, 2016, http://thisgameofgames.com/home/category/merritt-griswold/.

[2] “First Base Ball Match in St. Louis,” July 8, 1860, Daily Missouri Republican, St. Louis, Missouri, State Historical Society of Missouri (Columbia, Missouri).

[3] “Out Door Sports,” March 7, 1861, Daily Missouri Republican, St. Louis, Missouri, State Historical Society of Missouri (Columbia, Missouri).

[4] “The Match Game of Base Ball Interrupted,” August 23, 1861, Daily Missouri Republican, St. Louis, Missouri, State Historical Society of Missouri (Columbia, Missouri).
[5] Bruce S. Allardice, More Generals in Gray (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1995), 181.

[6] Compiled Service Record of Edward Bredell, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, DC.

[7] A Lost Heroine of the Confederacy: The Diaries and Letters of Belle Edmondson, ed. by William and Loretta Galbraith (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1990), 15.

[8] Compiled Service Record of Edward Bredell, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, DC.

[9] John Scott, Partisan Life with Mosby (London: Sampson Low, Son, and Marston, 1867), 310.

[10] James Williamson, Mosby’s Rangers: A Record of the Operations of the Forty-Third Battalion Virginia Cavalry (New York: R.B. Kenyon, 1896), 300.

[11] John Munson, Memoirs of a Mosby Ranger (New York: Moffat, Yard, and Company, 1906), ebook.


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